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Cape Town - Keeping our children safe is the greatest priority of any parent. The list is endless and begins with pregnancy, when we start watching what we eat and what we do, to protect them before they are even born. We start baby proofing before they can roll over, we spend weeks researching what first foods should be and how we should introduce them.

We spend months (hopefully) researching the safest car seat available. And once we start researching car seats, we start looking at our car in new ways: Is our car a “family car”? What does that mean?

Mandy Lee Miller, creator and director of national car seat awareness initiative #CarseatFullstop, spent a lot of time researching the perfect family car. Here are some of the key things she considered before selecting the perfect family car for her initiative and her family.

What should you be looking for in a family car?

How many stars does it have for child protection?

No, we’re not talking about Angelina Jolie here. Almost all new cars are crash-tested under the global New Car Assessment Programme (usually shortened to NCAP, or EuroNCAP when the tests are carried out under the auspices of the EU).

Before you even write up a shortlist of the cars you’re interested, go online at www.euroncap.com and check out their star ratings (out of a maximum of five), specifically for child occupants. As a general rule, anything less than three stars should set off alarm bells in any parent’s  mind.

Does the car offer full three-point seatbelts on all seats and ISOfix mounting points?

ISOfix is the standardised EU fitting system - using two lower clips and a top tether point - for securing a child seat in a car. While it is possible to secure a child seat in most car seats using a three-point seat belt, the purpose-made ISOfix system is much more secure - and practically foolproof, as well as quicker and easier.

If you are choosing your first family car, it will be well worth the investment to ensure the car you purchase has ISOfix mounting points - and that any child seat you buy, from infant seat to full-back booster seat, has ISOfix hardware as well.

Where are the airbags in the car and are you able to safely switch them off?

The front passenger seat is the most dangerous of all positions in a car. However, if you are a parent travelling alone, sometimes putting your baby in the rear of the car can be daunting.

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents, so if having your little one in the rear of the car is going to distract you, you might want to put your infant seat in the front seat alongside you. New cars allow for this, provided the airbag is switched off.

Does the car have adaptive cruise control? And traction control?

Adaptive cruise control with collision warning can keep you from going over the speed limit, if you are momentarily distracted by questions from your children or you are just regular parent-tired. But the main purpose of the electronic driver aids that are beginning to trickle down from expensive luxury cars to family sedans is to prevent you from crashing in the first place, and to reduce the impact if a collision is unavoidable. Children’s bodies are more flexible than adults’, but that also makes them more vulnerable to impact damage - hence the emphasis on collision mitigation.

Don’t be shy to ask the salesman at the dealership what safety systems are fitted to the car he’s trying to sell you - he’ll be only too happy to boast about them and explain exactly what each one does.

What is the car’s hands-free offering?

About 25 percent of car crashes are directly related to cellphone use, according to the ITF Road Safety Annual Report, 2018. Never underestimate the risk you are putting yourself and your family at to “quickly” respond to that text.

Find a car that offers a fully integrated, voice-activation system. The system should allow you to speak while keeping your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

How spacious is the car?

If you are planning to have two or more children or you are a social family likely to be lifting friends and family kids, consider investing in a seven-seater car. Installing multiple car seats, particularly fitting three seats across, while possible with persistence, can be a real challenge.

Having a solid third row of seats with full seatbelts can make all the difference to safe travels.

Finding the perfect family car might seem daunting, but there really is something out there for everybody. Have these thoughts in the back of your mind when you start your search.

Mandy Lee Miller can be contacted via email at [email protected] and at www.carseatfullstop.org.

Cape Argus